Family Law in Nigeria: Rights of a child after divorce

“ The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other”


Divorce could be a very devastating experience in the life of a child who has nothing to do with the situation. Nevertheless, the child or children as the case may be are usually dragged into what is usually a mess between two separated adults who no longer wish to remain married.

While it may seem that the child cannot protect his/herself from all the drama and the inequity that often follow from the divorce, it is paramount that the law of the land steps in to protect the child from the injustice, unfairness and suffering that could arise if the parents were left to decide on vital issues like the custody, visitation and maintenance of the child.

In Nigeria, both parents are responsible for the welfare of the child and pursuant to the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap. M7 Laws of the Federation 2004, any child below the age of twenty-one (21) is automatically entitled to maintenance.

In some exceptional cases, however, the maintenance order may be granted in favor of a child above 21 years and the court may use her discretion to include in the order welfare support, education advancement amongst others.

In addition, the Child’s Rights Act enacted pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been adopted by 24 states including Lagos, Enugu, Plateau, and Rivers states sets out provisions governing the welfare of a child.  However, most of the states in the northern part of Nigeria are yet to adopt it.

On the issue of custody of the child, the court may order joint custody or award custody to one of the parties with visitation rights for the other party.  The primary and most important consideration for the court in deciding who gets custody of the child as provided by the Matrimonial Causes Act and Child’s Rights Act is to decide what is in the best interest of the child such that certain factors must be in place for the child to have a normal life. These factors, though not exhaustive, include:

  • Emotional attachment to a particular parent.
  • Degree of familiarity and wishes of the child.
  • Adequacy of facilities (educational, social, emotional, and so on).
  • Respective incomes of the parties.
  • If one of the parties lives with a third party.
  • The age of the child.
  • The sex of the child. (Custody of a female child is usually given to the mother and male children to their father. However, this is subject to the overriding interest of the child).
  • Opportunities for a proper upbringing.
  • Conduct of the parties.

The courts do not decide on custody as a disciplinary measure to either party but it is the duty of the courts to take all the factors surrounding the application into consideration and decide which party is in the better position to take custody of the child.

With regards to children born out of wedlock, the Law provides different directions and regulations.

If you require assistance for advice, counseling and or information regarding details on the dissolution of marriage, child custody and child maintenance,  Contact us for a Free Consultation with a Family Law Expert today.



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